Monday, November 17, 2008

Wisconsin vs. Long Beach State: Raking Leaves and Watching Hoops

Basketball really got going this weekend, with the state’s three teams playing their first regular season games, and UWM playing in actual meaningful games in a tournament (I’ve only read about their 24-point comeback in the semifinals, but it sounded marvelous). Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attack the weekend as I would have liked. I missed the first Marquette game of the year because shockingly, I was unable to talk anyone into going with me on Friday night to see the Golden Eagles take on Houston Baptist. I watched Wisconsin-Long Beach State on TV, as actually attending would have made for my fourth trip to Madison in nine days, and that seemed excessive, particularly when I had leaves to rake. And UWM’s appearance in the finals of Iowa State’s tournament wasn’t even televised, so I had to resort to listening to the game on the radio while I cleaned my refrigerator.

But like I said, I did have opportunity to watch one game and listen to another, which was a perfect way to unwind from winterizing my lawn. So thoughts below on the Wisconsin game, with a few quick UWM sidebars at the end:

1) I wasn't impressed with the on-screen introductions of the starters last night, where each player stated his name and hometown, and then caught a ball that someone tossed to him. It's not a bad concept, but if the Big Ten Network is going to use it, their cameras need to shoot the players from the waist up, rather than the chest up. Because with the tight shot on the head and shoulders, you could barely see the tossed ball coming into frame, and several of the players looked like they were just randomly staring at someone off camera, rather than looking a ball into their hands.

2) Color commentator Shon Morris actually tossed out a mildly amusing line about Long Beach State's point guard early on when he noted "If Casper Ware is 5'9", then I'm Brad Pitt." But then Morris ruined it by going on to explain "And as anyone who's seen me knows, that's not the case." Yeah, we could infer that last part, Shon, and it's a lot funnier when you don't try to explain the joke.

3) I think I officially fell in love with Jordan Taylor yesterday, as he seemed to have me screaming with joy in my living room more than anyone else on the floor. In the little that I'd seen of him so far, he'd been steady and all, but yesterday he banked in a nice runner in the lane for his first points, took two charges, and tossed a perfect alley-oop pass to Marcus Landry, who needed the pass to be perfect to complete the play. If Taylor keeps this up, he may be the guy that replaces Joe Krabbenhoft next year as the guy I get most excited to watch play.

4) Obviously no line-up is completely set after one game, but Wisconsin's rotation yesterday is about what I expected. The only mild surprises to me is that Rob Wilson played slightly more than I expected, and Kevin Gullikson didn't see the floor. But like I said, those were minor surprises. And with Wilson's aggressiveness yesterday, his playing time was a welcome surprise (even if he banked in a 3-pointer for his first collegiate points).

5) Did anyone else think to themselves during the commercial featuring Big Ten football coaches giving recruiting pitches to viewers "Ten years from now this thing's going to be on Youtube and people are going to be asking why Penn State had a crazy old man coaching the team."

6) Long Beach State put up a much better fight against Wisconsin than expected with their physical, aggressive defense and solid three-point shooting. I think Long Beach State played well, and I know that Wisconsin tends to schedule better-than-average no-name opponents during the early season, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit worried to see the Badgers working so hard to beat Whitewater and Long Beach State back-to-back.

7) Last year, despite him having a good season, I had sort of given up on the idea of Marcus Landry ever being the go-to player for Wisconsin, but it’s looking exactly like that’s what he’s developed into. For the first time last night, there were times in the post where he looked just like his older brother Carl, who was dominant on the blocks for Purdue a few years ago. Carl couldn’t step out an shoot the three like Marcus, though. It looks like Marcus Landry is finally reaching his potential, and even though I suspected that would never happen, this is one time that I’m happy to be wrong.

8) Because of Landry’s status as the team’s top player, get ready to hear lots of talk on broadcasts this year about how he’s married with three kids, and how he’s grown up a lot during the last four years. I actually don’t think I’ll get annoyed by the fact that I’m going to hear this story 20 or so times this year, as it’s an impressive enough situation that it may actually warrant all the attention that it will get. I’m always happy to hear about a guy who went from being declared academically ineligible to becoming an upstanding family man and the leader of one of the top basketball teams in the Big Ten.

9) Because I’m obligated by law not to go longer than 3 days without mentioning something that I like about Joe Krabbenhoft, I’ll note that I loved when he very clearly expressed his anger to teammates when he and two other Badgers got beaten badly on a fastbreak early in the game. I also thought that Krabbenhoft looked more confident shooting the ball last night, though I’m not ready to get excited about that just yet, as he still looked tentative during the Whitewater exhibition.

10) If the Wisconsin-Long Beach State and UWM-Iowa State games are any indication, the new three-point line isn’t doing anything to discourage people from bombing away from the outside.

11) Am I the only one who’s bitter that UWM played a game against a Big 12 team and no one found a place to televise it?

12) Listening to the UWM game last night was sort of weird, since the Panthers have had so much turnover on their roster. Fifty percent of the roster is made up of new faces this year, and frankly, UWM’s rotation was in flux for so much of last year (and I saw so little of them then) that I can’t say I have a great handle on who all of the returning guys were, either. Thus, I spent a good portion of the game hearing the name of a player who had scored, and wondering which team had just registered a few more points. I’m a visual learner, so this should get a bit easier after a few trips to the MECCA (and next weekend’s trip to the Bradley Center to play Marquette).

I’ve got a few more things on the DVR, as there were lots of big-name teams in action last night, but we’ll see when I get to them. I’ve got a few chores tonight that will keep me from getting to the Marquette game going on downtown, but should catch a good portion of the game on TV if I time things right. Here’s looking forward to my first look at the Buzz Williams era...


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